Sunday, May 18, 2008

Determined Fifth Graders Get Published

While browsing my local bookstore one day, a bookseller called my attention to a book published by some fifth graders in Virginia called The Adventures of Danny and Spike Underground written by Sean Pickering and Scott Morrill, and illustrated by Dylan Peacock, all classmates in a school in Aldie, Virginia.

"Perfect", I thought. This would be great to send to my nephew in Chicago who's been writing like crazy these days and very anxious to get published. To actually hold a book in his hands written, illustrated and published by kids his age would surely give him a boost, I thought.

Apparently, the book all started with Sean, the main writer, and a sentence written when he was in second grade. "I'm Danny and I'm a regular boy", he wrote. This simple sentence grew into a fantasy story about kids, talking dogs and a magic subway ride that captures the imagination of kids. The colorful cover illustrated by classmate Dylan is imaginative. The illustration within the circular design in the center, surrounded by bold black patterning, brings readers in.

Driven to get their book published, the classmates put their money together to get five initial copies printed. Later their parents pitched in and paid for more copies.

The 78-page book has sold more than 500 copies since it came out in October. One day it sold more than even Harry Potter, a local bookseller told me. Since then the boys have had newspaper interviews and have done numerous book signings throughout the region. Not bad for three young boys determined to get their book idea, developed in the back of a school bus, to print.

Posted in May, 2008

A Walk In Your Shoes

I was lucky to work recently with at-risk high school students in a unique program at Pyramid Atlantic Art Center called Telling Your Own Story. In this after-school program Gilchrist Center for Cultural Diversity youth volunteers and students learned how to use their own personal experience in combination with visual art to produce autobiographical art works. The program was developed by the Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County, in collaboration with several non-profit organizations.

The students created artists books made from their own shoes, as an invitation to viewers to walk a mile in their shoes. Students were prompted to bring in shoes that had an interesting story behind them and painted, glued, stenciled and collaged images on them. They also created small accordion books with images from their stories.

I watched the students faces light up as storyteller and artist Ellouise Schoettler told her story of her visit to Egypt many years ago and held up the sandal that she wore. She later taught the students how to tell their own autobiographical stories. I brought in my Salsa shoes and talked about ways that I could decorate them with hot peppers and sequin and shared my stories about dancing.

At first the students seemed puzzled about exactly what we wanted them to achieve. Many of them hadn’t had much experience with art. Some of them struggled with words, since many spoke English as a second language. But after a few sessions we broke down many of the barriers and shyness and they freely shared aspects of their lives.

Posted in May, 2008